One of the natural qualities of pure silver is that it is highly tarnish resistant. Pure silver, however, is far too soft for use in everyday jewellery. You will often find pure silver being used to mint coins, but in the jewellery industry sterling silver has been the standard since the 14th century. Sterling silver is a metal alloy comprising of 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals – most typically copper.
This alloy, commonly known in the trade as 925 Sterling Silver, is far more durable as a metal, and therefore much better suited to everyday use in jewellery. This increased resilience does not come without a cost – the natural tarnish resistance of silver is slightly reduced.
The small percentage of copper in the sterling silver alloy is far more susceptible to tarnishing. It will oxidise when it reacts with other elements, such as sulphur. This reaction will cause the normally shiny white metal to develop a green coloured layer called a patina.
This is a natural chemical reaction that cannot be stopped, and as your sterling silver jewellery comes into contact with more chemicals – found in common everyday items such as deodorants, perfumes, oils & lotions, and even sun cream – the tarnishing process can accelerate.
Whilst this process is natural, there are some simple ways that you can care for your jewellery to maintain the silver lustre that we know and love.
You can maintain the high sheen polish simply by using a polishing cloth.
Gently rubbing your silver with a soft cloth, and a small amount of silver jewellery cleaner, will help to prolong its bright shine. Make sure you rinse the silver thoroughly in warm water, and carefully dry it afterwards.
When you remove your silver jewellery at the end of the day, store it in an airtight container, such as a zip-lock bag, or a lined jewellery box.
Alternatively you could wrap your silver jewellery in acid-free tissue paper.
If you find that your sterling silver has developed an unhealthy looking tarnish you can buy cleaning products online that will help to restore it to its former beauty.
There are also some home remedies you might be able to try:
Soap and warm water is a classic cleaning method, and is a simple way to return your jewellery to an as-new condition. All you need is to combine warm water with a mild ammonia, such as phosphate-free dishwashing soap.
If the soap and water approach doesn’t work, combine water with baking soda to make a paste. Apply a small, pea-sized amount of this paste to a clean cloth to polish the silver. It is best to polish in a back and forth motion, as opposed to a circular motion, that mirrors the silvers grain – rubbing in circles will only highlight micro-scratches on the surface of the metal.
If baking soda doesn’t work with warm water, you could try it with white vinegar instead. This is a gentle way of removing heavy tarnishing. Simply soak the tarnished jewellery for 2-3 hours in a solution of ½ a cup of white vinegar, and 2 tbsp. of baking soda.
Lemon juice is also well known for its cleaning properties. Just mix ½ a cup of lemon juice with a tsp. of olive oil in a large bowl. Dip a small microfiber cloth into the solution, and wring it out. You can then polish the silver – again using a gentle back and forth motion – rinse under warm water, and dry the silver with a clean cloth.
Remember, just like all the things we care about, you need to look after your silver jewellery; prevention is always better than curing. One of the best ways to prevent sterling silver from tarnishing is simply by wearing and enjoying your jewellery. Natural oils on your skin can help to keep the silver clean, and maintain its brilliance.
Try to avoid wearing it when performing household chores, and put your jewellery on last so that it doesn’t come into contact with beauty products or perfumes.
With just a small amount of attention and care will give you a lifetime of enjoyment from your unique and personal piece.
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